Stags at Wembley: Kevin Hitchcock remembers penalty heroics to win Freight Rover Trophy for Mansfield Town

Kevin Hitchcock kicks away Gordon Owen's penalty in the 1987 Freight Rover Trophy final shoot-out.
Kevin Hitchcock kicks away Gordon Owen's penalty in the 1987 Freight Rover Trophy final shoot-out.

Goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock was convinced he would save at least one penalty in the 1987 Freight Rover Trophy final shoot-out – but as it turned out, of course, he saved two in arguably Mansfield Town’s greatest day.

Hitchcock had never been to Wembley before, but his heroics sparked national Hitchcock Thriller headlines as the Stags lifted silverware at the home of football.

Kevin Hitchcock dives to make a save during the 120 minutes of the 1987 Freight Rover Trophy final.

Kevin Hitchcock dives to make a save during the 120 minutes of the 1987 Freight Rover Trophy final.

The keeper was thrust into the limelight by the drama of the first ever Wembley penalty shoot-out after the 1-1 draw over 120 minutes.

Bristol City led throughout the shoot-out until it reached 4-3 with one kick remaining each of the initial five – but Hitchcock was still confident.

“I knew I had it in me to save one,” he recalled. “I wasn’t too concerned when Keith Cassells’ penalty was saved. I had a feeling it was my day.

“But first you have to say (defender) Gary Pollard’s penalty to keep us in it and make it 4-3 was unbelievable. He was so cool and no one knew he had that in him.

Kevin Hitchcock, wearing the Mexican hat, is swamped by fans at the open-top bus parade celebrations a day after Wembley.

Kevin Hitchcock, wearing the Mexican hat, is swamped by fans at the open-top bus parade celebrations a day after Wembley.

“Then when Gordon Owen stepped up (to try to win it for Bristol) I knew I could stop it. I had got my hand to one of the earlier ones, so I thought there was a chance.

“I read the kick – it was straight down the middle - and kicked it away.

“After Kenty scored (to make it sudden death) I knew I had another one in me, and did the same again from Moyesy (David Moyes).

“I remember going up to the Chad photographer behind the goal and asking if he had got my picture.

“Then Tony Kenworthy scored, we had won and I ran to the fence to see my family. It was amazing.”

The following day the Stags were given an open-top bus parade celebration and a special reception by Mansfield District Council.

“I had a silly Mexican hat on! I remember the bus parade and we were gobsmacked at how many people came out,” said Hitchcock.

“It was really busy as we went past all the pubs, but then when we turned into the Civic Centre – wow! I thought this can’t be true, there were so many people there. Winning at Wembley meant such a lot.”

Hitchcock, who missed a tour around the stadium the day before the match to be best man at a friend’s wedding, said: “I remember the manager, Ian Greaves, saying in the build-up to make sure you took in as much as you could because going to Wembley didn’t happen very often.

“So I tried to remember as much as I could.

“We travelled in from Beaconsfield on the A40 to the North Circular so all we saw was red and white with Bristol fans. Then we took a detour and suddenly it was all yellow and blue – it gave the lads a big lift.

“It made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

“Then I remember walking on to the pitch in our suits and trying to take it all in.”

Hitchcock, a Londoner, had many family and friends cheering him on at Wembley and he was able to see them before and after the final.

The keeper admitted it wasn’t a great game over the 120 minutes. “It was two teams who didn’t want to lose,” he said.

“It was 0-0 at half-time. Then we scored. My goal-kick was flicked on by Mark Kearney and Keith Cassells got down the left and crossed for Kenty (Kevin Kent) to score.

“I remember thinking wow – now we have got to up our game.

“I can remember clattering Joe Jordan (the former big Scottish international striker) at one point.

“Then they equalised near the end. It was not a good goal to concede, but it just beat me on the post.”

Glynn Riley’s 88th minute equaliser didn’t dent Hitchcock’s confidence for the shoot-out, however.

“Ian Greaves deserved the success,” the keeper recalled. “He was an incredible manager and it was a fantastic time.

“It was good to see so many of the old faces I had not seen for 30 years at the recent reunion at the club. To meet up was really nice.

“That group of players was not the greatest team, but we worked hard for each other – and that was down to Greavsie.

“He put together players with experience and some younger ones.

“There was an Elton John record that Greavsie played in his car all the time – Passengers. It became a bit of an anthem for us and it was played on the team coach all the time.

“We just gelled big time and it was a great time.”

The keeper, who started his career at Nottingham Forest, made around 224 appearances for the Stags before going on to Chelsea in a playing career that stretched from 1988 to 2009. This season he was goalkeeping coach at Birmingham City.

He said winning at Wembley was the highlight of more than four years at the then Field Mill, which included winning promotion from the former Division Four.